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Brooklyn: The Sane Alternative

The Eagle was not the greatest newspaper in New York in its day; there were after all, eight others (the Times, Herald Tribune, News, Mirror, World-Telegram, Post, Journal-American, and the Sun) and for years Brooklyn had two other papersthe Citizen and the Times-Union. But the Eagle was a pretty good paper for what it was attempting to do, and all it ever really attempted was to cover Brooklyn. I used to deliver it after school, which is why one shoulder is lower than the other, but along with a lot of other people I used to read it. I don't have the slightest idea what its editorial policies were, though I imagine they were conservative, since its owner eventually folded it up instead of submitting to the Newspaper Guild. I used to read the comics and the sports pages and odd features like Uncle Ray's Corner, which was all about the lifestyle of the mongoose, and other matters. The best comic strips were Invisible Scarlet O'Neil, who had some kind of special vein in her arm which she pressed to become invisible, and Steve Roper, which was about a magazine reporter. Of the sportswriters. I only remember Harold C. Burr, who had a gnarled face pasted above his column and looked something like Burt Shotton, who was interim Pope of the Dodgers while Leo Durocher sat out a suspension, and Tommy Holmes, who joined the staff of the Herald Tribune after the Eagle folded.

But even though the Eagle was not a great paper, it had a great function: it helped to weld together an extremely heterogeneous community. Without it, Brooklyn became a vast network of hamlets, whose boundaries were rigidly drawn but whose connections with each other were vague at best, hostile at worst. None of the three surviving metropolitan newspapers really covers Brooklyn now until eventsOcean Hill-Brownsville, for examplehave reached the stage of crisis; the New York Times has more people in Asia than it has in Brooklyn, and you could excuse that, certainly, on grounds of priorities if you did not also know that this most powerful New York paper has three columnists writing on national affairs, one writing on European affairs, and none at all writing about this city.

The folding of the "Eagle" was a factor in the decline of Brooklyn: "not a great paper, but pretty good in what it tried to do."

Without the Eagle, local merchants floundered for years in their attempt to reach their old customers; two large Brooklyn department storesNamm's and Loeser'sfolded up. If you were looking for an apartment or a furnished room in Brooklyn, there was no central bulletin board. School sports are still largely ignored in the metropolitan papers, as Pete Axthelm pointed out so vividly in these pages a few months ago about the great Boys' High teams; Boys' High is in Brooklyn, for God's sake, in Bedford-Stuyvesant! How could you expect to get your reporter back alive? But the Eagle covered school sports with a vengeance, and the rivalries between various high schools were strong and alive. Today, they don't seem to matter much; hell, even the old ladies who used to yank the Eagle from my hand to read the obituaries don't have that consolation anymore.

Nobody really covers the Brooklyn Borough President's office anymore (as I suppose nobody has covered the Bronx Borough President since the absorption of the Bronx Home News by the Post). Nobody covers the borough as a whole. When Hugh Carey announced that he was running for mayor, not many New Yorkers knew who he was, despite the fact that he is one of the most important members of the New York City Congressional delegation, and comes from the borough with the strongest Democratic party machine. He is from Brooklyn: nobody knows his name. (The void left by the loss of the Eagle has been increasingly filled in recent years by the weekly neighborhood papers, of which the Park Slope News-Home Reporter is by far the best I've seen. During the school strike, it ran the single best account of the anger and bitterness on local levels of any paper in the city.) In any other city its size, there would be at least two newspapers. Brooklyn has none.

The loss of the Dodgers was an even deeper emotional shock to the people of Brooklyn, because it affected so many more people than the Eagle's demise did. Kids, for example. I remember an afternoon in the fall of 1941, when I was 6, sitting in the midst of a crowd of thousands on the steps of the just-opened central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. A few days before, the Dodgers had won the National League pennant. All through the '30s, they were the clowns of the league: an outfielder named Babe Herman had been hit on the head with a fly ball; three Dodger runners once ended up on third base at the same time; a player named Casey Stengel once came to bat, tipped his hat, and a bird flew out. But in 1941 they won the pennant, and Brooklyn welcomed them home like champions. All the schools were closed. There was a motorcade from the Brooklyn Borough Hall right up Flatbush Avenue to Ebbets Field, and in the huge crowds people were laughing and cheering and crying, lost in that kind of innocent euphoria that always comes when underdogs win out against all odds. (Imagine what will happen in this town when the Mets finally win a pennant.) All of them were there: Kirby Higbe, Hugh Casey, Dolf Camilli, Durocher himself, Pee Wee Reese, the great and tragic Pete Reiser: all of them smiling and waving in the bright sunshine. I was 6, and even I knew who they were.


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